Women keep cricket’s magic alive

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IT took women to make more Americans take football seriously. Now women need to remind cricket that T20 is about innovation because men are determined to make linear, logical, sense of the magnetic madness that is the shortest format.

There was plenty of just that to see at Newlands on Friday. That is, while the SA and England women’s teams were playing the second of their three T20 internationals.

Even though the boundaries were shortened by about 20 metres compared to the playing area on which the countries’ men’s teams would play the first game of their T20 series a few hours later, power hitting was not an important part of the equation.

One six was hit during England’s 20 overs. Compare that with India’s men’s team hammering SA for 11 sixes in Dharamsala in October.

But England’s women hit 18 fours on Friday, or three more than India’s men at Dharamsala. Not blessed with as much of the brawn men use to blaze the ball to the fence, most of those boundaries at Newlands were scored because gaps in the field were sought and found.

Strokes like the reverse sweep – which is calculated to confuse fielders rather than careen out of their range – came out more often than they might do if men were at the crease.

To watch England’s Anya Shrubsole was to see a master swing bowler at work, her skill made all the more appreciable because she does not generate anything like Dale Steyn’s pace.

Dane van Niekerk’s stumping by Sarah Taylor happened at rattlesnake speed, so fast that Van Niekerk was halfway back to the dressingroom before anyone not on the field realised she had not been bowled.

Trisha Chetty’s runout, meanwhile, was a magnificent moment of multi-tasking: the wicket was broken at both ends of the pitch with both batsmen – sadly, that is what they are called – out of their ground.

And after all that SA still claimed their first T20 victory over England, and deservedly so. Clearly, women’s cricket exists in a parallel universe where no line is as straight as it seems.

Contrast that with Faf du Plessis, one of the clearest, most articulate thinkers among modern players, doing his damnedest to demystify death bowling.

“It’s all to do with the surface we play on,” Du Plessis said this week. “Death isn’t always yorkers. Sometimes, when the pitch might grip, hard lengths could be a better option.

“If one of the straight boundaries is short, if you’re looking for yorkers and you miss it’s possibly the easiest shot to try and score a boundary.

“If you can land your yorkers at any time of the game, especially if you’re closing that over down, it’s a great time to nail that yorker.

“It’s something we’ve worked on as a bowling unit – to land those yorkers right through the game.”

Nothing about cricket is as emphatically male as a yorker shattering a set of stumps. But we shouldn’t blame men for their tendency to want to straighten any line: show a man a problem and all he thinks of is how to solve it.

So, was Du Plessis sounding a worry or a hope when he said, “A T20 World Cup is crazy because anyone can win it.”?  

T20 exists because enough people realised the 30 overs in the middle of most 50-over innings amounted to little more than a turgidness of nurdling batting and nothing bowling. Get rid of those overs and you are left with business ends of the innings: craziness squared.

But, 11 years and 504 matches after the first T20 international was played, the craziness often fizzles into something suspiciously like the formulaic fare that 50-over cricket is at its most unwatchable.

“Maybe people have worked it out and maybe it will lose some of its charm,” former SA player and selector Craig Matthews said. “But isn’t there a natural evolution about it that allows you to find new ways to play it and become better at it? That will be the challenge for teams going forward.

“T20 brings a lot of money to the game, which can’t be dissed. If people learn a way to play it and that takes some of the appeal away, they’ll find ways to make changes to bring some of that appeal back.”

Spoken like a man: damn straight.

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